Israel Demolishes Buildings in Arab Town, Citing Lack of Permits

Israeli Arabs say increased enforcement of construction laws stems from political pressure tied to pending evacuation of West Bank settlement.

Israeli officials demolished 11 buildings put up without proper permits in the Israeli Arab city of Kalansua. January 10, 2017.
Moti Milrod

Israeli officials demolished Tuesday 11 buildings put up without proper permits in the Israeli Arab city of Kalansua, stirring political tensions regarding law enforcement and housing in Israel's Arab communities.

Their owners, four local families, said they only received notice two days ago and were not given proper time to respond through legal channels. The structures were built on land designated for farming.

Members of the Joint List of Arab partoes said the evacuation of the illegal West Bank outpost Amona and the investigation into the prime minister were linked to the demolitions in Kalansua. This is the first such extensive demolition in an Arab community in central or northern Israel in several years.

The Higher Arab Monitoring Committee and the Joint List held an emergency meeting in the Kalansua municipality, calling for a one-day general strike and a protest vigil at one of the demolition sites.

The demolitions, done by the police and the Finance Ministry department that enforces construction laws, took place in three different parts of town and were met with little opposition, though the mayor resigned in protest.

In an unusual step, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan issued a statement “praising the police for providing security for the demolition of the illegal buildings in Kalansua.” Erdan added that “the complex operation expresses the equal application of law enforcement in Israel, as enforcement should be.”

The Finance Ministry unit said the buildings, in various stages of construction, had been put up in an area zoned for agriculture. The construction breached both regional and national master plans, the ministry said.

Kalansua Mayor Abdel Bassat Salameh announced his resignation after the demolitions. He said he had fought for years to expand Kalansua’s master plan, and bureaucratic slowdowns were choking the residents, who build because they have no choice.

The houses, some of which were in the final stages of construction, were owned by four Kalansua families, who said they were building on their own private land. Abu Khaled Arar, whose four sons own the houses that were demolished, told Haaretz that he had moved from the Negev after his land there was expropriated for construction of an airfield. He then bought land in the Kalansua area.

“We’re a clan of 150 people and the young people grow up and want to build and get married and live in their own homes,” he said. “We don’t have anywhere to go and we realize there’s no chance we’ll get a building permit in the coming years, so we have no choice but to build.”

Family members said they received notice of the demolitions only two days before they took place and had no time to go to court.

“We all put all our money into this so we’d have a roof over our heads, and some of us took out loans of hundreds of thousands of shekels, or payments over many months ahead. And it was all destroyed before our eyes in a few minutes,” Mustafa Mahlouf, one of the owners, told Haaretz.

As he put it, Erdan and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “want to talk about enforcement to satisfy the settlers and decided that Kalansua would be the first victim.”

A member of the Joint List added: “The demolition of 11 buildings that people built on their own private land is an unprecedented crime and a declaration of war against the residents of Kalansua and the Arab community.”

Some 50,000 structures have been built without permits in Arab towns and villages, 99 percent of which are on land owned by the residents, usually zoned for agriculture or defined as nature reserves.